As Deadly Flu Sweeps Country, Koch-Backed Group Fights Paid Sick Leave Policies Nationwide
This week marks 25 years since Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gave employees in the U.S. the right to unpaid time off to care for themselves and family members. A decade later, San Francisco became the first city to approve paid sick leave. Today some 14 million workers in 32 municipalities and nine states have paid sick leave policies. On Thursday, Austin city councilmembers will vote on an ordinance that would make it the first city in the South to require paid sick leave from private employers. But the measure is facing strong opposition from a Koch brothers-backed lobbying group called the National Federation of Independent Business, which is fighting paid sick leave policies across the country. This the same lobbying group that led the opposition to the Affordable Care Act. For more we speak to Gregorio Casar, the Austin city councilmember who introduced the paid sick leave measure. When he first won election in 2014, he was the youngest councilmember in the city’s history. He is the son of Mexican immigrants.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan GonzÃ¡lez.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, we end today’s show with an historic upcoming vote on mandated paid sick leave in Austin, Texas. This week marks 25 years since Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gave employees in the U.S. the right to unpaid time off to care for themselves and family members. A decade later, San Francisco became the first city to approve paid sick leave. Today, some 14 million workers in 32 municipalities and nine states have paid sick leave policies.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Thursday, Austin city councilmembers will vote on an ordinance that would make it the first city in the South to require paid sick leave from private employers. But the measure is facing strong opposition from a Koch brothers-backed lobbying group called the National Federation of Independent Business, which is fighting paid sick leave policies across the country. This is the same lobbying group that led the opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Well, to talk more about the fight for paid sick leave, we go now to Austin, Texas, to speak with Gregorio Casar, the Austin city councilmember who introduced the measure. When he first won election in 2014, he was the youngest councilmember in the Austin’s history. He’s the son of Mexican immigrants.
We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Greg Casar. Talk about the significance of this struggle in your city and then what people are facing across the country, as we see a flu epidemic like we have not seen. I think here in New York last week, two more children died. The critical point here is people going to work when they’re sick, and then that sickness infecting others.
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: Thank you so much for having me on. In the era of Trump, we’ve seen consistent attacks against people’s basic safety and to their healthcare. But also in this time, we’ve seen the resistance go local. And city after city has stood up and demanded a higher minimum wage, demanded protections for immigrants, and, in this case, are demanding paid sick days so that people don’t have to choose between their job and taking care of their health or taking care of their child. And so, we are poised, in just a couple days, to be the first city in the South to pass a paid sick days policy and to hopefully inspire so many other municipalities across the South to start taking care of our own communities’ health, even while we’re under attack, and taking care of our own workers’ basic rights.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Greg Casar, what do you say to some of the—some of the folks, the opponents of your legislation right now, who are saying that you’re rushing this through without sufficient hearings to discuss the potential impacts on businesses in Austin? What’s your response?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: We’re the only wealthy nation on the planet that doesn’t have federal protections for paid sick days. Indeed, it was back in 2015, during his State of the Union, then-President Barack Obama demanded seven paid sick days for every single American worker. It’s been a long battle against misinformation from the big business lobby, that continues to spread lies about how this is going to hurt the American economy. But it’s been proven, in city after city, that paid sick days are good, not just for everyday families and workers, but for the economy as a whole.
But we have to continue to fight these Koch brothers-funded large business lobby organizations that say that they’re all about freedom, but their arguments sound like the same arguments we heard against the 8-hour workday, against child labor laws and against the minimum wage. They are fighting back against basic public health and safety standards for our workers. But in cities, our local governments have not been as bought off by this kind of big corporate, right-wing money. And so, we have a City Council that’s advancing a very ambitious bill to give every worker in our Southern city eight days of paid sick days, no matter who your employer is.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read from our colleague, Democracy Now!'s RenÃ©e Feltz's piece in The Guardian on this issue. Her headline, “Koch-backed group fights paid sick leave laws as flu sweeps US.” After mentioning the Clinton Family and Medical Leave Act from 25 years ago, where U.S. workers got the right to unpaid time off to care for themselves and close family members, she writes, “It took another decade for some to win paid sick leave, when San Franciscans approved a ballot initiative in 2006 for private employees to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Similar measures now benefit 14 million workers in 32 municipalities and nine states.” So, Greg Casar, in Austin, can you talk about the NF—the National Federation of Independent Business, the group that’s funded by the Koch brothers, that led the assault on Obamacare, that’s targeting movements across the country to ensure that—that are trying to ensure workers can get paid sick leave? How are you taking them on in Austin?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: The NFIB uses a cookie-cutter approach to oppose any new workers’ rights protection, anywhere across the country. They fought to block paid sick days in Philadelphia. But they lost, and in Philadelphia there’s now a paid sick days law. Just last month, they fought to block a paid sick days law in Maryland, but indeed the Maryland Legislature successfully passed a sick leave law.
But here in the South, they have focused not just on opposing city councils, but on trying to recruit their cronies in state legislatures, where they have funneled tons of money to corporate Republicans to take away paid sick days, even if they’re passed by a local city council. So, just yesterday, a local state lawmaker that’s aligned with these right-wing corporate groups, like the NFIB, pledged that next year, even if the Austin City Council passes paid sick days for hundreds of thousands of people, that he would file a bill next year to take those sick days away.
But instead of shying away from that fight, we’re heading headlong into that battle, because we know that paid sick days is a popular issue. And they’re going to have to rip that out of our hands, and we’re going to fight to not allow them to do it, because that’s part of the resistance that we see occurring in city after city. But these groups, as revealed in The Guardian’s article this week, are not representative of independent or small businesses. They are funded largely by organizations like Koch Industries.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Greg Casar, I wanted to ask you, in the little time we have left—President Trump unveiled his new budget proposal yesterday, and it was really astounding, not only the huge deficits, but what he was planning to do in terms of infrastructure. Many people were expecting that there was going to be this huge windfall from repatriated profits of American companies that would help to fund the huge infrastructure program. But his proposal basically calls on the cities and the states to fund a good portion of infrastructure programs with private-public partnerships, and the federal government only giving about $200 billion over 10 years for this, for infrastructure. Your response to, as a city councilman, Austin or the state of Texas being asked to put up most of the money for these infrastructure projects?
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: This plan isn’t really a plan. It’s another scam. It’s classic Trump, where he wants to take credit, but somebody else is actually doing the work, and somebody else is paying for it. A recent report by the Center for American Progress shows that Trump’s budget actually decreases spending on infrastructure. So, listeners and viewers might say, “Well, what about that $1.5 trillion number that Trump is talking about?” What he’s talking about is having local jurisdictions pay for that. And so, he wants to put the burden back on cities, who, largely, can only tax homeowners and local commercial developments. So he’s basically saying, “I’m going to have you pick up the tab and pay more for our crumbling infrastructure,” and he wants to say that he’s taking credit, when, really, the only thing—the only infrastructure that he’s proposed that is new is the hateful monument of the border wall, that would cost $20 to $30 billion and just hurt each and every single one of us. So he’s proposing, at most, $100 billion for our cities, at the same time that he’s asking us—
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: We’ve got about 10 seconds to go.
COUNCILMEMBER GREGORIO CASAR: —to pick up a $1.5 trillion tab.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Greg, we want to thank you for being with us, Austin City Councilmember Gregorio Casar, who was arrested earlier last year protesting around anti-immigration policies.